I am interested in the history of health and medicine in the twentieth century, particularly in the North American context. I am particularly drawn to controversies about medical knowledge and am keen to explore how historians can help inform such debates. These interests have led me to investigate the histories of psychiatry, allergy, food and nutrition, child health and environmental illness. In particular, I have published two books on the history of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which address different aspects of these controversial condition. The first, An Alternative History of Hyperactivity: Food Additives and the Feingold Diet (Rutgers UP, 2011) tells the story of the Feingold diet, which linked food additives and hyperactivity. The second, Hyperactive: The Controversial History of ADHD, is a broader history of hyperactivity, which addresses why ADHD has become such a divisive topic and what this says about our relationship with psychiatry, education, drugs and, most importantly, children. I am also in the early stages of planning a subsequent research project on the history of social psychiatry. I would be eager to supervise projects that touch on any of these areas, as well as North American history more generally.
My current research project, which was funded by a Wellcome Trust fellowship, and will be published with Columbia University Press, is called 'One Person's Food is Another's Poison', and examines experiences and understandings of food allergy, primarily in the twentieth century. Although food allergy is now the subject of intense medical research, lobbying and legislation, it was considered ‘witchcraft, a fad, or a racket’ for much of the twentieth century, and an area of clinical practice that was certain to discredit those who researched and treated it. The aim of this project is to examine how food allergy was transformed from a marginalised, ridiculed subject to a medical phenomenon which has changed the way in which food is processed, marketed and consumed.
Given the relevance of much of my research, I endeavour to do a considerable amount of public engagement work. These efforts have recently been facilitated by me being named a BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker in 2012. Through this initiative, I’ve done a number of radio broadcasts on Radio 3’s Night Waves on the history of ADHD and food allergy, and participated in the Free Thinking Festival. I also have a blog on Psychology Today, write regularly for historyandpolicy.org, have given a number of public lectures (including for Café Scientifique and the Department for Education) and am active on twitter (follow me @mpcsmith). I am also a book reviews editor and on the editorial board for History of Psychiatry – do get in touch if you fancy reviewing a book! Finally, I am on the executive committee and serve as Publicity Officer for the Society for the Social History of Medicine. If you are not a member, please considering joining and reaping the benefits of the best history of medical society around!
School of Humanities
University of Strathclyde
McCance Building, 16 Richmond Street, Glasgow G1 1XQ